At age twelve, I witnessed a fight—no—a brawl between two teenaged girls. It was a hot summer day, and they were in the middle of the street, scratching up each other’s faces, yanking out each other’s hair, tearing off each other’s clothes, and just generally trying to rip each other to shreds. Why? One girl found out the other was dating her boyfriend. While they fought, the boyfriend walked up the street with another girl on his arm and viewed the battle royal taking place in his honor like a common spectator who had nothing whatsoever to do with why those two girls were in a knock-down-drag-out.
I wondered why the girls directed their anger solely toward each other instead of the boyfriend. He did the cheating and the lying, yet the girls did not confront him about that or the new girl in his life. It wasn’t as if they didn’t see him. The truth of the matter was, his presence made them go at each other more viciously. And when he got bored with the rumble and went about his business, it took three parents to pull those two girls apart.
So why was the boyfriend able to walk away free? After years of watching this scenario play out over and over again with teenaged girls and adult women, and after writing a novel about a woman who knowingly gets involved with a married man, I stumbled upon the answer. It all boils down to who is to blame when a man has an affair? Oddly enough, not the man. I’ve come to learn that the wife and the other woman place the blame entirely at each other’s feet.
From the first flirtatious wink of an eye from a husband to another woman, the other woman automatically points her finger at the wife, accuses her of falling down on her job, and charges her with failing to keep her husband happy in the kitchen and in the bedroom. Why does the other woman blame the wife for her husband’s infidelity? Because it frees her conscience. She cannot be held responsible for breaking up a happy home if it was already broken and unhappy. In the eyes of the other woman, the husband turns to her because his wife is not fulfilling his needs. Often the other woman’s battle cry is, “He wouldn’t be coming to me if his wife was doing her job.” Never does it occur to the other woman that the wife is still as fun, loving, giving and supportive as she was when she and he first walked down the aisle. Never does the other woman entertain the thought that the husband made a vow to his wife and broke it because of some issue, flaw or insecurity having to do with him. Never does the other woman think that the only need the wife is unable to tend to is her husband’s need to sleep with another woman.
Secondly, blaming the wife boosts the other woman’s self-esteem. The husband comes to her because she is better than the wife, more attractive, more exciting, more outgoing, more attentive, more sensual. Blaming the wife makes the other woman feel special, makes her believe she is more than a fling. She has to be, or he would not risk his family and reputation to be with her.
Strangely enough, this is the wife’s mindset as well. The minute the affair is discovered, she elevates the other woman to this mystical being, who has the power to make her husband do things he normally wouldn’t do, like sleep with another woman. The wife can be heard uttering statements like, “She took my man; if it wasn’t for her, he wouldn’t have done it.” So the wife does not see her husband as the culprit. She views him as a victim, who has fallen prey to some loose, manipulative, no good, mind-controlling, home wreaker, man-stealing woman.
But there is one person the wife blames more than anyone else for her husband’s infidelity—herself. She looks in the mirror and with the critical eye of a lifelong enemy picks herself apart. Piece by piece, she goes after her appearance, her personality, her abilities as a wife, her abilities as mother, her abilities as a woman, and just generally and relentlessly runs herself into the ground. “I didn’t keep the house clean enough,” she berates herself. “I wasn’t supportive enough. I gained too much weight. I didn’t laugh enough with him. I didn’t cry enough with him. I cried too much. I complained too much. I wasn’t affectionate enough. I put too much pressure on him. I didn’t let him be a man. I, I, I, I, I, I.”
Why does the wife blame herself and the other woman? It’s less painful. To look herself in the face and admit that her husband knowingly, willingly and purposely did something that would break her heart is a heartbreaking thing to do and survive. If she and the other woman are to blame, she can justify loving and staying with a man who so carelessly flung her love aside. If she is at fault, she has control of the situation and can fix whatever she did wrong to drive him into the arms of another woman.
All this is not to say that the wife is a perfect person who does nothing wrong. What is does say is that when a husband has an affair, it is not the fault of an inattentive, overweight, witch of a spouse or a lonely, psychotic, mind controlling, bunny-boiler woman, but a conscious choice made by a husband. And until women truly understand this very hurtful fact, we are doomed to be forever rumbling in the middle of the street.